Did you know that when we interact with a new person it takes just one-tenth of a second for us to judge them and make a first impression? That’s pretty bloody quick.
Our judgments of others are coloured by our own past experiences, projections and expectations. In essence, we impose the blueprints of our past relationship experiences on the new person. All in a nanosecond. Which doesn’t seem particularly fair. And potentially leads us in to a hole of misjudgements.
Luckily for us, if we increase our awareness around our judgments we can avoid the largest of these errors.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
This idea refers to a false belief about a situation that evokes a particular behaviour that in turn makes the false belief become true.
Let’s say we have to give a presentation at work and we are pretty confident that the speech will go terribly. It then comes as no surprise when we stutter, mumble and frequently forget the next point when we’re speaking. Our learned self-doubt becomes self-fulfilling. That is, by expecting to fail, we make failure a certainty by not really trying.
We might ride this off as evidence of how well we know our self and our abilities (or lack thereof), the effect of our expectations has a big effect on our behaviour. When our beliefs and expectations influence our behaviour at the subconscious level, we are not quite profound psychics, just enacting the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Is it that big a surprise that we find ourselves attracted to the same type of person. Not really when we consider the issue of transference.
The resemblance of new people to the significant others in our lives, colours our judgment significantly of the new person. Transference refers to the re-surfacing of past relationships with the new people we meet. The resemblance serves as a trigger for transference. Significant others can include a parent, a best friend, sibling or a romantic partner. Because of the significance of these relationships, these individuals deeply influence the way we interpret and emotionally respond in many, if not all, the new interpersonal interactions we have in daily life.
So when we go on a date with someone who might resemble parts of an ex-partner, the feelings and goals associated with the past relationships tend to be re-experienced. The interpersonal cues – maybe the way he or she listens, their gestures or their attitudes - remind us of the former romantic partner. And we then tend to evaluate the new person as if they are the ex. Obvs this can result in quite inappropriately, superimposing flawed responses learned in the previous relationship onto the new one.
We might turn down an idea that is presented to us by a University student, but then blindly follow the same advice of someone who is more highly regarded. I used to have a thing with men in suits. Until it was brought to my attention, I used to put blind faith into the words of men who wore suits.
Our expectations influence our views of subsequent events. Research shows us that if we tell people up front that they will find something appalling, it is highly likely that they will end up agreeing with us – not because their experience tells them this, but their expectations do.
Using brain scanners to monitor the minds of wine drinkers, researchers have found that people given two identical red wines got more pleasure from tasting the one they were told costs more. The brain relies on certain beliefs – such as the notion that expensive wines taste better – which quite literally flavours the experience.
When we look into those who experience drug and alcohol use disorders, expectations can play a large role. Individuals formulate beliefs about the emotional consequences of using a substance (e.g., feeling relaxed after drinking a beer). Those of us who expect alcohol to help relieve tensions are more likely to turn to alcohol when stressed. These expectancies can be acquired through social learning and media messages, but then are shaped by our repeated experiences of positive and negative reinforcement with a substance.
In short, what we expect to happen tends to strongly influence what actually happens. When we believe in advance that something will be good, therefore, it generally will be good, and vice versa. This is not to suggest that feeling (sensation) plays no role in experience. It is rather that feeling is always coloured by our beliefs.
In the end, it’s human nature. We make people what we want them to be or to live up to based on our own experiences. And sometimes we might be wrong. But we can take all new meetings as new learning experiences. Who knows what we might find out?